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Greek grandmother’s universal quality

20 October 2015 / 13:10:26  GRReporter
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You cannot be the mother of every child but you could easily be a grandmother to all. Being a grandmother is a universal quality, as proven by three elderly women from the island of Lesbos, whose photo has provoked a wave of positive comments on the Greek social networks and media.

While dozens of boats carrying refugees and migrants from Turkey to Europe were arriving on the beach near the village of Skala Sikaminias last Friday afternoon the three women were watching the coast guard members and the volunteers providing first aid to the new arrivals.

As every afternoon, 83-year-old Emilia (Militza) Kamvisi, 89-year-old Efstratia Mavrapidi and her 85-year-old cousin Maritza Mavrapidi were sitting on their favourite bench. Then they heard an almost newborn baby loudly crying in the arms of his mother who was wet to the skin and who was unsuccessfully trying to feed him with a bottle of milk.

Then the grandmothers took the matter into their own hands. "Give the baby here, dear girl. Give him to me to feed him," grandmother Militza told the mother in the specific dialect of the island. Initially, the woman did not understand but the gesture of the grandmother to take the child in her arms facilitated their communication. She gladly gave the baby to the elderly lady. Grandmother Militza took the month-old boy, sat on the bench, brought the bottle of milk to his lips and quietly started to sing a song to him. Her friends began to sing along with her, smiling and looking at the child with tenderness.

Photographer Lefteris Partsalis who was on the island to take photos of the arrival of refugees was able to catch these moments with his camera. The day that he posted the photo, it became one of the most circulated images on the Greek Internet space.

"My daughter told me that our photo appeared on the Internet (she is not using the exact phrase, but considering just that - editor’s note). I did not do anything special. I wanted to help the girl who was wet and exhausted," grandmother Militza told the Greek newspaper Ethnos.

Born and raised in the village, the 83-year-old woman has raised four children and eight grandchildren, feeling pride at her four great-grandchildren. For decades, she worked on the family plantation of olive trees, and today her only income is the agricultural pension of 330 euro per month. Her husband died 19 years ago.

But every day she and her friends gather on the bench by the sea and enjoy watching the coast guards and members of non-profit organizations, "who enter the sea to help the people come ashore, despite the cold and rough sea." Grandmother Militza becomes sad when she sees children crying and looking for their parents, and some boats sinking. "Many incidents have occurred here. They have taken out from the sea dead children, girls and boys, but elderly people as well. This eats my heart out, I cannot sleep at night. What is the fault of these people? They have left their homes, they have left behind their households, arriving here to leave again and go to Europe. It is a sin to drown in the sea," she says.

Grandmother Militza has not hold and fed a baby in her arms for years but her maternal instinct has not left her. "The mother remains a mother until she closes her eyes. What does it mean if I knew? I do not see and do not hear well, but I can still feed and soothe a child," she said in response to a question as to whether she was sure she could handle the situation.

"I took him firmly in my hands. The child needed security. His mother was wet, looking for some clothes to change, and his father was in a state of panic because he would not stop crying. We were sitting there and we could do something about it. I grabbed the baby, took the bottle, the baby felt a dry lap, we sang to him and then he drank his milk at once." When the baby was asleep, the three grandmothers advised his mother who thanked them.

The photo of the grandmothers is very special for the 28-year-old photographer of SOOC agency and website "When I arrived in Lesbos I thought that all photos from there had already been taken and published. There was no sense in photographing boats, refugees in bad shape and difficult conditions. We had seen so many such pictures in the summer. I had never imagined that when I arrived in the camp organized by non-profit organizations in Skala Sikaminias I would come across a lively grandmother who would grab the baby of two refugees and feed him with two of her friends helping her with their tender eyes," said Lefteris Partsalis.

Tags: SocietyRefugeesLesvos islandGreek grandmothersBaby
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